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How to balance motherhood and business

Mum trying to work with her baby boy
Credit: iStock.com/lechatnoir

International research has revealed that 30 per cent of mums who own businesses are putting in 50+ hours of childcare each week on top of their day jobs.

The research by global design marketplace 99designs, which surveyed 1900 entrepreneurs from around the world, found that women face many added challenges in balancing the roles of being both a parent and an entrepreneur. 

“Almost a third of female founders put in more than 50 hours per week on childcare on top of running their business. This compares to only 10% of founder fathers who spend 50 hours or more per week on childcare,” the report found.

A further 21 per cent of female founders who have children spend 31-49 hours on childcare each week versus 12 per cent of fathers.

“Being an entrepreneur is tough but doing it as a parent - and particularly as a mother - is even tougher,” says 99designs CEO Patrick Llewellyn.

“The data shows the vast majority of caregiving responsibility falls on women and this ultimately contributes to both financial and labor inequality.”

Yolanda Vega is a sessional lecturer at Swinburne University. Her current PhD research focuses on sex discrimination laws and policies. She says there are a number of challenges facing mothers who own a business. The first is the nature of the businesses most women choose to run.

“Women start and run businesses differently to men. The majority of women run service-based businesses, rather than a product you can sell,” says Yolanda. 

The problem with service-based businesses is that they typically rely on the owner’s daily input: without them, there is often no business. This has big ramifications for women.

“My research on Australian female entrepreneurs found that because women tend to go into service based industries, they don’t get capital. They get money from friends and family or their savings, but not from angel investors or venture capitalists,” says Yolanda.

Capital is what helps a business start-up and scale quickly. Investors usually require fast returns on their cash.

“They want five to eight per cent in three to five years, then they want their money back and want to step away. That happens when you build products, not service-based businesses,” says Yolanda.

Being an entrepreneur is tough but doing it as a parent - and particularly as a mother - is even tougher.
Patrick Llewellyn

Her comments align with the 99designs research findings, which also revealed that fathers who own a business secure significantly more external capital than mothers.

99designs found that women with children are more likely to be running a business with much less funding than their male counterparts and that 47 per cent of fathers reported having raised over $US50,000 of external capital for their business versus just 28 per cent of mothers.

Yolanda says that female entrepreneurs are often more averse to taking financial risks than their male counterparts.

“Because women are normally the primary carer they want to ensure the nest is kept safe. If they apply for a loan, they will seldom put their house up as collateral,” she says.

“That’s another barrier, as a lot of angel investors will say to an entrepreneur, ‘Would you sell your house and your mother?’. If you say no they say they aren’t going to risk investing in you.”

Yolanda says men are more likely to go into a business for financial reasons, whereas women will often choose a business based on their passion and to help others.

“Unfortunately, women tend not to look at the economics first up. Men do.  Women seldom do a cash flow or look at the numbers first. They just think, ‘I love doing this’.

“Yes we are in a global business so there are global opportunities. But there’s so much noise out there and more competition than ever before.

“In today’s global village a lot of money is needed to market your business, as there are a million other people doing it too.”

How to level the playing field for mothers in business

Yolanda says it is possible to run a successful business while having caring responsibilities, but a few key criteria need to be in place.

“You need to have good cash flow, complete a proper budget and have access to a substantial marketing budget,” she says. And, test the market before you start the business.

Yolanda’s research found that single mothers make up 20 per cent of Australia’s female entrepreneurs.

Yolanda says society should encourage women to support women to start the types of businesses that have more potential to scale: that is, products, not services. 

Yolanda also believes the corporate world should work harder to utilise the former corporate executives turned business owners.

“These are women who are highly educated, worked in a corporate environment for many years and then decided they didn’t want to be there,” Yolanda says.

“They leave to start a business, but the corporate environment then locks them out, which is ridiculous: they should include them in their supply chain.”

She also encourages women to buy from women.

“Women run all types of businesses, you can obtain any product or service from a female-led enterprise, just use Google.”

For Yolanda, the reaction from outsiders when told someone is starting a business goes to the core of the issue.

“If you’re a woman they say, ‘Oh, is it a hobby?’ Or they visualise a woman sitting around at a table with the children doing arts and crafts.

“If a man says they’ve started a business in their garage, they think, ‘Ooh, the next Bill Gates’. The perception out there, from banks, financial institutions and investors is incredibly sexist,” she says.